One of the top things to do in Loreto, Baja California Sur is to visit San Javier Mission. This beautifully restored mission is about an hour’s drive from the city and is home to one of the most well-preserved missions along the peninsula.
Imagine walking on a cobblestone road in a small rural town surrounded by fruit trees, one of the oldest olive trees in Baja, and a 300-year-old church. Sound magical? It is.
While our trip out to Mission San Javier started off rocky (more on that later), we’re super glad we got to visit and recommend this day trip to anyone visiting Loreto, Mexico. If you want to take a day trip to Mission San Javier, here’s everything you need to know before visiting.
The history of San Javier Mission
The full name of San Javier Mission is Misión San Francisco Xavier de Viggé-Biaundó. This mission was one of the 27 Jesuit Missions that were built across Baja in the 1700s when Mexico was under Spanish rule.
Mission San Javier was built on the native land of the Guaycura and Cochimí tribes, although there are dozens of different native tribes that resided throughout Baja before colonization.
These missions were built to convert the native peoples to Catholicism and turn them into hard-working Spanish citizens. Spain established hundreds of missions across its territories (including the USA) and mainland Mexico.
Baja missions are beautiful and an important part of Mexico’s history, but visitors should keep in mind these missions displaced and eradicated entire native civilizations. Many natives were forced to assimilate leaving behind their cultural practices, language, and beliefs. On top of that, the disease and conflict that followed colonization also killed many of their people.
The original Mission San Javier was built in 1699 by Francisco María Píccolo. The region was called “Viggé Biaundó” by the native peoples which meant “high lands in the height of a ravine.” Its location in between the mountains made it an extremely difficult place to establish a mission. It was later moved to the location it sits today in 1744 by Padre Ugarte because of conflict with the natives in the area after settling.
The construction of the church was completed in 1758. There was a long road called the Camino Real that connected each of the missions in Baja all the way to modern-day Sonoma, California. Each original Mission had a large bell that indicated the Camino Real. *You can see the start of the Camino in Loreto.*
Many of the missions in Baja failed because they were unable to adapt and cultivate food in Baja’s hot, dry, and extreme climate. Mission San Javier, was the exception.
This mission was able to thrive because it was located next to a natural spring. The Padres and the “converted” natives grew food through acequias (irrigation ditches) in the land nearby along with olive trees and vines for winemaking.
The Spanish occupied the mission until the early 1800s, abandoning it after the Spanish fled Mexico in 1817. Sitting vacant for nearly a century meant the Mission was in poor shape at the start of the millennia. But in the late 1900s, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History helped reconstruct the building.
How to get to San Javier Mission
Mission San Javier is located in a remote area of the mountains about an hour from Loreto, Baja California Sur. The easiest way to get there is to drive your own vehicle. You can use Google Maps to get you there. The name is simply called “Road to San Javier” from Loreto. High-clearance vehicles aren’t needed and the road is paved the entire way (just very windy).
TIP: Service is almost non-existent once you get 15 to 20 minutes outside of Loreto City. Download Google Maps for offline use so you can navigate without worry.
There are a few year-round water passings from natural springs that flow in the mountains nearby. The water levels in the road could be higher if there has been a lot of rain lately. So make sure to check road conditions before visiting.
If you are visiting Mission San Javier on a motorcycle like us — be careful on the water crossings! There is algae in the water passings on the sides of the road. This algae is like black ice and extremely slippery. We lost control immediately and crashed our bike! Make sure to follow the center sections of the water crossings where other cars and tires have passed.
If you don’t have a vehicle with you, your best option is to hire a tour guide to take you there. We recommend Loreto Baja Tours, who took us on the most incredible walking history tour of Loreto City.
At the time they quoted tour prices to Mission San Javier around $100 per person. This includes transportation, a guide at the mission, and lunch or refreshment. Pricing may change depending on the number of people in the tour group.
What to bring to San Javier Mission
Mission San Javier is a very small farming town. There are only a few year-round inhabitants, and the town itself has very little to offer visitors in terms of modern amenities. There are two restaurants (both located across the street from the mission) that can offer free-wifi, bathrooms, and tasty food (CASH ONLY).
The weather can be extremely hot in the summer rainy season (June – October). If you’re coming during these months, make sure to bring cool clothing, a hat for sun protection, and a refillable water bottle like this Camelbak. We went in February and the weather was perfect!
Make sure to bring pesos, or cash with you. There are no ATMs in the town.
Is there a cost to visit San Javier Mission?
San Javier Mission is free to visit. If you would like to go to the small Missions museum attached to the back of the church it is $10 pesos to enter. All of the signs are in Spanish though, so if you’re not fluent this might be worth skipping.
If you’d like to visit the spring, aqueduct, and 300-year-old olive tree at the back of the property you will need to pay $20 pesos (roughly $1 USD). We thought the cost was worth it. It’s by far the largest olive tree we’ve ever seen. We also love getting to see Spanish-built aqueducts.
Things to do at Mission San Javier, Baja
Today visitors can admire the Church’s facade, including its impressive dome interior and the statue of San Francisco Javier (the saint the Church is named after). There are also eight massive oil paintings on the golden reredos (altarpiece) with different Saints. Keep an eye out for three bells in the tower, two of which date back to 1761 and 1803.
Aside from exploring the church, you can walk to the back of the grounds to view the olive trees and natural spring. As mentioned there is a $20 peso fee to enter this area, but it’s worth it. There are some placards explaining the importance, age, and history of these ancient olive trees. Which are believed to be the oldest in all of Baja, Mexico.
There’s a good chance someone will be selling freshly made honey, wine, olive oil, olives, dates, and other goods. Definitely try the products, and if you’re interested support their work by buying some goods. Everything is artisanally made and grown organically from their yard.
Plan to spend around half an hour walking around San Javier’s ground. If you want to elongate your stay grab a bite to eat or refreshments at the restaurant, which has fantastic food. We spent around 2 hours there including lunch, but took our time since we were filming.
If you’re coming in winter try to visit on December 2nd the Feast Day of Saint Bibiana. Each year, thousands of Pilgrims come to this mission to celebrate and honor Saint Bibiana, a Roman virgin martyr who faced a number of challenges during her lifetime. People come to her to pray about hangovers, headaches, mental illness, and other terrible events like torture.
While it’s a bit of a journey to get to Mission San Javier, it’s definitely worth visiting. We really enjoyed our time there and are glad we got to see such a well-preserved reconstruction of these historical churches.